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Expect More From Your Public Course Registrars.

ENROLLEE: Hello, I'm thinking about enrolling in...
REGISTRAR: And how will you be paying for that?
ENROLLEE: Uh, I suppose by purchase order, but first...
REGISTRAR: I'll need to know your course number and customer number.
ENROLLEE: Uh, I'm not exactly sure, but...
REGISTRAR: Are you a citizen of one of the following hostile nations?
ENROLLEE: Oh, never mind. I'll try back some other time.
REGISTRAR: Thank you. Have a nice day.

Too many public course enrollees get treated like an order to be processed rather than a customer to be served. Why? Because the registrar who picks up their call is part of a back office bureaucracy known as a "Call Center."

Under a Call Center system, an enrollee who needs counseling in selecting the right course -- or who could be encouraged to enroll in a course string or certification path -- or who has valuable information to share concerning the overall training needs of their organization is dumped off to some other part of the organization. "We'll have someone call you back about that."

But, you know what? Nobody ever does call back -- or when they do, they never connect. Because the odds of actually getting anybody on the phone today are less than 10%.

Call Center proponents claim their system is efficient and smart -- by minimizing call duration and improving call throughput. I say their system may be perfectly swell in a situation where folks are calling in to question a charge on a credit card bill. But it's a totally wrongheaded way to treat a potential course enrollee. Here's why:

A. What good does it do to save 3 minutes on a call if another part of your organization has to spend 15 minutes trying to reconnect? Why usher somebody out of the store when they came in to buy something.

B. Training needs don't "keep." Every day you delay taking an enrollment decreases by 10% the probability that the individual will enroll at all. If you want evidence for this, take a look at how many students you are actually able to re-enroll when you find you must reschedule a course.

C. Requiring high-priced salespeople to call back individual enrollees is just not cost effective. The ticket's too small, the timing's not right, and bigger fish don't get fried. Meanwhile, all a registrar has to do to scale up the sale is to go with the flow. After all, the customer wouldn't be calling if they weren't interested in buying. And it's only natural to counsel enrollees into a curriculum or certification path once you've helped them lock in on their immediate learning need. (Don't tell me that registrars can't upsell. Give them the proper tools and incentives and they can do a terrific job. We'll describe how to make this happen in a future E-Visory.)

D. Don't assume that registrars can't counsel enrollees into the right course because they're not technical enough. Chances are the enrollee is technical enough for both of them! Show your registrars how to use Socratic questioning techniques to help enrollees place themselves (we'll treat this in a future E-Visory as well). If you routinely have to escalate to instructors to resolve course placement issues, you're in trouble. You can't pick up a phone when you're on platform!

Here are some typical dialogues we get into when we propose that registrars play an expanded role:

"If we ask our registrars to do any more, we'll just increase our customer hold time and call abandon rate."

So, hire more registrars. You should be able to reduce headcount in the areas that are picking up the slack now -- or offset increased payroll with additional revenue. Don't hang up on an enrollee until every opportunity has been addressed.

"Our registrars are there to serve enrollees. You can't serve and sell at the same time."

Who would you rather buy from; somebody who was trying to be of service to you -- or somebody who was trying to strong-arm you? Every top drawer sales organization today is trying to distinguish itself as a value added service provider. If there's a conflict between serving customers and selling them, you're doing something wrong.

"Our registrars will throw up their hands and quit if we also task them with curriculum consulting and selling responsibilities."

Actually, they'll thank you for making their job less monotonous and more rewarding. You'll be able to attract a higher caliber employee and retain them longer. And, guess what, your better registrars are already performing beyond their job description.

"A lot of our calls come from purchasing and training administration people who don't need any help and don't want to be sold to."

Fine, then just take the registration. What's the big deal?

"Can't we just steer enrollees who need more information or want to upgrade their order to our Web site?"

Why transfer any customer once you've established rapport. If the Web will help you make your case, stay on the line while the enrollee logs on. By the way, if you are also accepting registrations over the Web, be sure your Web site is robust enough to do the whole job, too.

"Why can't we just use clerical types to take the basic registrations -- and transfer more demanding or promising situations to more highly skilled employees?"

This is better than telling enrollees someone will call them back -- but every time you transfer a call you have to go through the information gathering and rapport building process with the caller all over again. Also, who's to say your designated expert will be available when needed.

"What happens if a registrar can't resolve everything with the enrollee during the initial call?"

Then the registrar should call the enrollee back, at an appointed time if possible. When you're enrolling public course attendees, there are 1001 reasons why callbacks are needed. Perhaps a waitlisted course has opened up. Or you've had to move a course from your training center to a hotel. Or you need to reschedule an offering. Or you've come up with additional information to help the enrollee select the right course -- or help them make a case to their boss for a course certification string.

"If we incent our registrars to sell, isn't there a risk that they'll brush off enrollees that don't have any upsell potential?"

Be sure your registrars are measured and incented to do the entire job. Don't incent any one responsibility at the expense of the others.

In conclusion, don't relegate your public course registrars to being back office bureaucrats. Empower them to meet every enrollee need and address every opportunity associated with the enrollment process. Expect more. You'll get it.

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